Archive for July, 2011
Dan’s OCD often revolved around his thoughts more than his actions, so we really didn’t know anything was wrong until he told us. And even when we knew he had OCD and could see that he was spiraling downward, he would say, “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
To this day those two words, “I’m fine,” make me cringe and stop in my tracks. Dan has been doing great for over two years now, so you would think I would have moved on, because really, he is fine. For the longest time, however, I would focus intently on his every move, action, and expression, looking for the reassurance I needed to confirm that he indeed was fine. If I had any doubts, then I would ask him how he was doing just so I could hear those two words that cause me so much anxiety.
In a wonderful post about well-meaners (her friends and OCD support system), “Bobs” gives us insight as to what it is like to be worried about constantly, and then gives us some advice of her own. If you or a loved one has OCD, it is a post well worth reading. What rings true to me more than anything is this advice: Trust the person with OCD.
I need to remember this, because although Dan used to say he was fine when he was not fine, that was a long time ago. He has changed a lot since those dark days. He has been through treatment, and has matured. Most importantly, he knows himself and his OCD, better than anyone. If at any point he is not fine, he may not tell me, but I am confident he will do what it takes to get well.
As more time passes, I’m getting better. I no longer analyze every move, expression, or comment that Dan makes. I’ve always tried to see him as separate from his OCD, but now that takes little effort, and I often forget that he even has the disorder. I can almost hear the words “I’m fine” without cringing, because deep down I know. He is just as fine as the rest of us.
When Dan was struggling with severe OCD, his compulsions and rituals were all done “to keep something bad from happening.” In his mind, if he moved from his chair, neglected to engage in all sorts of mental compulsions, or even ate, something terrible might happen to those he cared about. While the rational part of him knew there was no connection between him eating and a catastrophe occurring, it didn’t matter. There was always that doubt. Rightfully so, OCD is often called The Doubting Disease.
It’s so ironic when you think of it. The very behaviors those with OCD indulge in often produce results that are the exact opposite of what they intend. Dan didn’t eat for over a week because he thought something bad would happen if he did. Well, plenty “bad” did happen as a direct result of his not eating: He became physically ill. He had to be taken to the hospital. His family was distraught. He could barely function.
Another good example of “the opposite happening” can be found on this post of The OCD Chronicles. For years, Elly always wore socks for fear of contamination. Somehow she ended up getting a fungal infection on her toes, and wearing socks all of the time only aggravated and prolonged the infection. The result was the exact opposite of what was intended.
If there are any Seinfeld fans out there, this post may remind you of the episode where George, the ultimate “loser”, decides to do the “exact opposite” of what he usually does, with the hope of turning his life around. And it works!
Wouldn’t it be nice if OCD could be scripted as easily as a television show? It’s not that easy, but with the right therapy OCD sufferers can resist their compulsions instead of giving in to them, live their day-to-day lives instead of avoiding certain situations and isolating themselves, and accept whatever thoughts they have as just thoughts instead of fearing them. In short, they can learn to “just do the opposite.”
As long as we’ve been getting into semantics lately, let’s talk about the D in OCD. As Dr. Jeff Szymanski, Executive Director of the International OCD Foundation points out on this blog about OCD, the word disorder connotes an intensity or seriousness. Just think about it. Saying “I’m in a bad mood,” implies something much less severe than “I have a mood disorder.” Likewise, having eating issues or stomach aches is by no means the same as having an “eating disorder” or “digestive disorder.”
The same goes for OCD. Being obsessive, compulsive, or both is not the same as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I like Dr. Szymanksi’s comparison of himself, who he considers to be somewhat compulsive, with someone who has OCD:
When I park my car in the morning and walk away, sometimes the thought occurs to me, “Did I lock the doors?” Though I might feel a little anxious and I might even go back and check the car, I am not suddenly overcome by fears, doubts and catastrophic images. This, however, is the experience of someone with OCD. My doubts and anxiety were minimal to begin with. The thoughts and worries about my car actually go away without me doing anything. Talk with someone who has a diagnosis of OCD. No matter what they do, they are plagued for hours every day, day after day, with unrelenting, crushing anxiety.
This is what so many people fail to understand – how debilitating OCD actually can be. When Dan was not able to eat , and essentially not able to function, I thought, “Okay, I know he has OCD, but what else is going on here?” I had no idea that OCD could be so crippling.
If those around us don’t understand OCD, how can we expect them to offer the appropriate support? In my experience, most people want to understand, and they want to help. This is why it is so important to educate family, friends, teachers, peers, and co-workers. The D in OCD can be devastating, and everyone needs to know that.